Isaiah 66:24 MEANING

Isaiah 66:24
(24) And they shall go forth . . .--As at the close of Isaiah 48, 57, each ending a great section of the volume, so here, the vision of restoration and blessedness is balanced by that of the righteous condemnation of the wicked. The outward imagery is suggested, as in Joel 3:12; Zechariah 14:12, by that of the great battle of the Lord (Isaiah 66:15-16). Those who are slain in that battle are thought of as filling the valleys round about Jerusalem, especially the valley of Jehoshaphat ("Jehovah judges "), devoured by worms, or given to the flames. Taken strictly, therefore, the words do not speak of the punishment of the souls of men after death, but of the defeat and destruction upon earth of the enemies of Jehovah. The words that tell us that "the worm shall not die" and that "the fire shall not be quenched" point, however, to something more than this, to be read between the lines. And so those words became the starting-point of the thoughts of later Judaism as to Gehenna (Ecclesiasticus 8:17; Judith 16:17, and the Targum on this passage), of the words in which our Lord Himself gave utterance to what, at least, seemed to express those thoughts (Mark 9:44-48), of the dominant eschatology of Christendom. Even so taken, however, with this wider range, it is still a question whether the words are to be taken literally or figuratively (though this, perhaps, is hardly a question), whether the bodies, which represent souls, are thought of as not destroyed, but only tormented, or as consumed to nothing, by the fire and by the worm, whether those two agents represent sufferings of sense or spirit. The one aspect of the future life which they tend to exclude is that which presents the idea of a suffering that may be purifying. That idea is not without apparent support in other passages of Scripture (e.g., Romans 5:17-21; Romans 11:32; 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6); but we cannot say that it entered into the prophet's thoughts here. What he emphasises is the eternal antagonism between the righteousness of God and man's unrighteousness, and this involves the punishment of the latter as long as it exists. In any case there is a strange solemnity in this being the last word of the prophet's book of revelation, even as there is a like awfulness in the picture of the final judgment, which appears in Matthew 25:46, at all but the close of our Lord's public teaching. Cheyne quotes a singular rubric of the Jewish ritual, that when this chapter, or Ecclesiastes 12, or Malachi 3, was read in the synagogue, the last verse but one should be repeated after the last, so that mercy might appear as in the end triumphant after and over judgment.

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Verse 24. - And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases, etc. Here is more imagery, which it is impossible to understand literally. The carcases could not remain always to be looked at, nor while they remained could the sight of them be otherwise than loathsome to God's redeemed saints. Again, they could not be at the same time burnt with fire and eaten by worms. "The prophet, by the very mode of description adopted by him, precludes the possibility of our conceiving of the thing set forth as realized in any material form in this present state. He is speaking of the future state, but in figures drawn from the present world" (Delitzsch). Does he mean more than this - that the redeemed shall have in their thoughts, at any rate from time to time, the fact that, while they have by God's great mercy been saved and brought into His kingdom, there are those who have not been saved, but lie for ever under the awful sentence of God's wrath? This is a knowledge which the redeemed must have, and which may well produce a salutary effect on them, intensifying their gratitude and maintaining in them a spirit of reverent fear. Their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched (comp. Mark 9:44, 46, 48). It cannot be by chance that the evangelical prophet concludes his glorious prophecy with this terrible note of warning. Either he was divinely directed thus to terminate his teaching, or he felt the need that there was of his emphasizing all the many warnings dispersed throughout his "book" by a final, never-to-be-forgotten picture. The undying worm and the quenchless fire - images introduced by him - became appropriated thenceforth to the final condition of impenitent sinners (Jud. 16:17; Ecclus. 7:17), and were even adopted by our Lord himself in the same connection (Mark 9.). The incongruity of the two images shows that they are not to be understood literally; but both alike imply everlasting continuance, and are incompatible with either of the two modern heresies of universalism or annihilationism. They shall be an abhorring unto all flesh (comp. Daniel 12:2, where the word deraon is rendered "contempt"). The Jewish rabbis regarded it as anomalous that any portion of Scripture should conclude with words of ill omen. When, therefore, this chapter was read in the synagogue, or the last of Ecclesiastes, or Lamentations, or Malachi, they directed that after the reading of the last verse, the last verse but one should he repeated, to correct the sad impression that would otherwise have been left upon the mind. But Isaiah thought it salutary to leave this sad impression (comp. Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21).

66:19,20, set forth the abundance of means for conversion of sinners. These expressions are figurative, and express the plentiful and gracious helps for bringing God's elect home to Christ. All shall be welcome; and nothing shall be wanting for their assistance and encouragement. A gospel ministry shall be set up in the church; they would have solemn worship before the Lord. In the last verse the nature of the punishment of sinners in the world to come is represented. Then shall the righteous and wicked be separated. Our Saviour applies this to the everlasting misery and torment of impenitent sinners in the future state. To the honour of that free grace which thus distinguishes them, let the redeemed of the Lord, with humility, and not without holy trembling, sing triumphant songs. With this affecting representation of the opposite states of the righteous and wicked, characters which include the whole human race, Isaiah concludes his prophecies. May God grant, for Christ's sake, that our portion may be with those who fear and love his name, who cleave to his truths, and persevere in every good work, looking to receive from the Lord Jesus Christ the gracious invitation, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.And they shall go forth,.... That is, those constant and spiritual worshippers shall go forth from the holy mountain Jerusalem, the church of God, whither they are brought as an offering to the Lord, and where they worship him; for this is not to be understood of going out of Jerusalem literally, as Aben Ezra and Kimchi; or of their going out of their graves after the resurrection, as others; but either out of the Christian assemblies, or out of the houses of the saints, and the beloved city, when fire shall come down from heaven, and destroy the wicked, Revelation 20:9,

and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me. The Targum is,

"against my Word;''

against Christ, whose person they blasphemed, denying him to be God; whose office, as a Mediator and Saviour, they rejected; whose doctrines they contradicted; and whose ordinances they despised: these are not the carcasses of the camp of Gog and Magog, the Jews so call, as Kimchi interprets it; though it may have reference to the carcasses of Gog's army, the Turks, that will be slain in their attempt to recover Judea, Ezekiel 38:1 or else the carcasses of those that will be slain at the battle at Armageddon, Revelation 16:16 or the army of Gog and Magog, at the end of the thousand years, Revelation 20:8. The Talmudists (t) observe from hence, that the wicked, even at the gate of hell, return not by repentance; for it is not said, that "have transgressed", but "that transgress"; for they transgress, and go on for ever; and so indeed the word may be rendered, "that transgress", or "are transgressing" (u); for they interpret it of the damned in hell, as many do; and of whom the following clauses may be understood:

for their worm shall not die; with which their carcasses shall be covered, they lying rotting above ground; or figuratively their consciences, and the horrors and terrors that shall seize them, which they will never get rid of. The Targum is,

"their souls shall not die;''

as they will not, though their bodies may; but will remain to suffer the wrath of God to all eternity: neither shall their fire be quenched; in hell, as Jarchi interprets it; those wicked men, the followers and worshippers of antichrist, will be cast into the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; they will for ever suffer the vengeance of eternal fire; and the smoke of their torment shall ascend for ever and ever, Revelation 14:10,

and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh; the true worshippers of God, Isaiah 66:23 to whom their carcasses will be loathsome, when they look upon them; and their souls abominable, because of their wicked actions; and who cannot but applaud the justice of God in their condemnation; and admire distinguishing grace and mercy, that has preserved them from the like ruin and destruction. The Targum is,

"and the ungodly shall be judged in hell, till the righteous shall say concerning them, we have seen enough;''

see Mark 9:44, where our Lord mentions and repeats some of the clauses of this, text, and applies them to the torments of hell.

(t) T. Bab. Erubim, fol. 19. 1. R. Hona in Midrash Tillim in Psal. i. 6. (u) "praevaricantium in me", Pagninus, Montanus; "qui transgressi sunt contra me", Piscator; "deficientium a me", Cocceius.

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